Fact-Checking Florida's Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Sep 7, 2012

Florida voters will have to decide the fate of nearly a dozen state constitutional amendments in the upcoming election. One organization has set up an on-line resource to give voters all sides on each of those amendments.

As if a huge slate of federal, state and local candidates wasn’t enough in this election, Floridians have something else important to vote on;  a total of eleven proposed amendments to the state constitution.  Each one will appear on the ballot in the form of a fairly concise description.  Take Amendment Eight, for instance.  Its description reads:  “Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution providing that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding, or other support, except as required by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

But the measure also has the title, “Religious Freedom Amendment.”  That has opponents like Alan Stonecipher with the Vote No on Eight Committee up in arms.

“We’re a coalition of statewide organizations including the Florida PTA, League of Women Voters, the Florida Education Association and others who are concerned this is a misleading amendment.  (We’re) trying to inform the voters of Florida about the consequences of the amendment and warning them to not be fooled.”

How does Stonecipher worry voters will be fooled?

“It’s really a religious funding amendment, not a religious freedom amendment and what it would do is allow state government to give our tax dollars to any group claiming to be a religious organization without any kind of oversight or accountability of those tax dollars.”

But supporters of Amendment Eight, like Michael Sheedy with the Florida Catholic Conference, say the amendment doesn’t mean that at all.

“It ensures that religious providers have equal standing with other non-profit organizations in the public square when it comes to providing secular services (such as) soup kitchens, healthcare and social services, that kind of thing.”

And Sheedy says the fears of opponents that the amendment would open the door for the state to hand out vouchers for religious schools is misplaced.  The issue he says is doing away with the unfairness of what’s in the Florida Constitution now.

“It really just has a discriminatory effect against religious providers of services who are already subject to provisions against proselytizing and that kind of thing in those schools when they receive state funds.”

So which side is right?  Both have web sites with their own take on the amendment.  And there are ten other amendments, some equally contentious.   There is one place confused voters may go for guidance.  It’s provided by the Collins Center for Public Policy where Tony Carvajal is the chief operating officer.  It can be found at: www.collinscenter.org.

“When you get to the site when you click on any of the amendments you will clearly see what the amendment does; what it means if you vote ‘yes’, what it means if you vote ‘no’.”
Carvajal says the center will provide an independent, unbiased analysis of each amendment.  And there will be more views available as well.

“We’ve partnered in the past with other associations and partisan groups and we’ve invited them again to post their position papers on here.  So while we’ve done the non-partisan and impartial analysis of these bills, we want the advocates to also list their links there.  This is your one-stop site for information on the constitutional amendments.”

But wait, there’s more.

“We’ve added a comments section because we want this to be a conversation," Carvahal said. "We want the citizens of Florida to engage with us in explaining what the amendments do, questioning what the amendments do, or engaging with others on the site.”

Again, that resource is on the web at:  www.collinscenter.org   There’s another good source for information about Florida’s proposed constitutional amendments.  It’s right here on this public radio station.  We’ll be featuring an in-depth look at all eleven amendments in the weeks to come.